So much for the whispers of Stephen Thompson becoming an afterthought in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s welterweight division.
The South Carolina-based karateka shined in his only appearance of 2020, as he continued to reassert himself as a top-tier contender at 170 pounds with a lopsided unanimous decision over Geoff Neal in the UFC Fight Night 183 main event on Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. All three cageside judges scored it 50-45 for Thompson, who has posted back-to-back victories since being knocked out by former UFC and World Extreme Cagefighting champion Anthony Pettis some two years ago.
“Wonderboy” used superior speed and craft to connect on 171 significant strikes against Neal, shattering his previous personal benchmark (138) in the category. Perhaps most impressively, the soon-to-be 38-year-old showed no outward signs of age-related deterioration. Thompson maintained a steady pace for 25 minutes—he threw no fewer than 66 total strikes in any of the five rounds—and stayed a step ahead of a well-trained and respected adversary. The 428 total strikes he attempted against Neal were the fifth-most in a welterweight fight in UFC history.
In the aftermath of UFC Fight Night “Thompson vs. Neal,” here are four matches that ought to be made:
Stephen Thompson vs. Leon Edwards: Thought to be in a downward slide after a 1-3-1 stretch that culminated with his devastating loss to Pettis, Thompson has instead righted himself and proven he has at least a few more chapters left to write. The Simpsonville, South Carolina, native overwhelmed Neal with pace, variety and movement, handing the Fortis MMA representative his first defeat since Jan. 28, 2017. Moreover, he fought through adversity, including an inadvertent clash of heads that resulted in serious cuts to both men in the first round and a leg injury suffered in the waning seconds of the fourth. Where Thompson goes from hear figures to become a source of debate, though the UFC appears to have three outstanding options: Edwards, Colby Covington or Jorge Masvidal. On an eight-fight tear that covers more than six years, Edwards warrants someone with a much higher profile than Khamzat Chimaev.
Jose Aldo vs. Pedro Munhoz-Jimmie Rivera winner: It took three tries, but Aldo finally planted his flag in the 135-pound weight class, as he laid claim to a unanimous verdict over “The Ultimate Fighter Latin America” semifinalist Marlon Vera in the three-round co-headliner. The former UFC and WEC featherweight champion focused his efforts on the body and legs throughout the first two rounds, then exploited a brief opening in the third to outgrapple Vera, bleed time off the clock and steer clear of danger. All three judges scored it 29-28 for Aldo, who moved to 1-2 as a bantamweight and set the stage for another Top 10 opportunity in 2021. Munhoz and Rivera are scheduled to tangle at UFC Fight Night 186 on Jan. 30.
Rob Font vs. Cory Sandhagen-Frankie Edgar winner: Font no longer lacks a signature victory. The New England Cartel cornerstone put all the pieces of the puzzle together and announced his arrival as a true contender, as he wiped out former World Series of Fighting champion Marlon Moraes with punches in the first round of their high-stakes bantamweight attraction. Moraes succumbed to blows 3:47 into Round 1, having been chewed up and spit out by the Mark DellaGrotte disciple. Font, 33, will enter his 2021 campaign on the strength of three consecutive victories and in position to make some serious waves at 135 pounds. Sandhagen will confront Edgar at UFC Fight Night 187 on Feb. 6.
Michel Pereira vs. Alan Jouban: Pereira played against part, left much of his acrobatic offense in the locker room and followed a more traditional game plan in capturing a unanimous decision over Kalinn Williams in their three-round welterweight showcase. “Demolidor” swept the scorecards with 29-28 marks across the board, proving he could change speeds if the situation called for it. Pereira made his strikes count, mixed in a few takedowns and flummoxed Williams with feints and footwork. Those efforts proved fruitful against a man who had defeated his first two UFC opponents—Alex Morono and Abdul Razak Alhassan—in 57 seconds combined. Pereira finally has some built-in equity at 170 pounds, having rebounded from back-to-back defeats to Tristan Connelly and Diego Sanchez, the latter by disqualification. Jouban, an action hero in his own right, last fought at UFC 255, where he pocketed a unanimous decision against Jared Gooden on Nov. 21.